Do property values fall when wind turbines appear nearby?
By Wendy Williams
Ever since the 130-turbine Nantucket Sound wind power project known as Cape Wind was proposed in 2001, opponents have claimed that Cape Cod's shoreline properties would depreciate in value. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. once justified his opposition to Cape Wind on the grounds of environmental justice: middle- and low-income homeowners would pay higher property taxes because wealthy shoreline homeowners would pay less after the projected depreciation.
79% of interviewees said they did not expect a drop in home value - a fact which is not mentioned in the Institute's summary and study analysis An October, 2003 study, produced by David G. Tuerck's Beacon Hill "Institute" and financed by the private family foundation of a major Cape Wind opponent -- EMC Corporation co-founder Richard J. Egan -- seemed to buttress Kennedy's reasoning: "It is estimated that property values in the six affected towns would fall by 4 percent. This represent a loss of $1.35 billion in property values, or almost twice the cost of the windmill project."
Holy Moses! That's a lot of money to lose.
But how did Tuerck's Institute arrive at this figure?
There's the rub. A team of Tuerck's surveyors showed 501 homeowners in the six towns around the sound photo simulations of what the offshore wind project would allegedly look like from their homes. Then the team asked homeowners if they thought their properties might drop in value if Cape Wind were built.
Sampling a group that has been constantly assaulted with doom-and-gloom anti-wind-farm hysteria for several years is unlikely, scientifically speaking, to yield a useful result.
Even so, 79 percent of interviewees said they did not expect a drop in home value - a fact which is not mentioned in the Institute's summary and study analysis. Here's what the conclusion said: "Homeowners that the wind mill project would depress property values...."
To find out about these nay-sayers, you have to read the specific survey questions and responses.
Only 100 of those surveyed said they expected a drop in property values. How do you get from there - a few people who say their property values might drop some time in the future - to the Institute's ultimate conclusion - that Cape Cod property values would drop by an estimated $1.35 billion.
Luckily, this study was never juried by peer scientists, so the Beacon Hill team did not have answer that particularly salient question.
So what's the real story?
Several years ago, Ben Hoen, a Bard Center on Environmental Policy graduate student, looked at actual home sales near a 20-turbine, 30-megawatt wind project in central New York State. He examined 679 home sales occurring within 5 miles of the project occurring over a decade. He found no evidence of a drop in property values.
Hoen, however, wasn't satisfied. He wanted to extend his study in order to obtain a much larger sample size. Eventually he spoke with Ryan Wiser, a scientist with the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who only recently testified before a senate committee on the energy bill currently being debated in Congress.
Wiser's specialty is cost/benefit issues related to renewable energy. He hired Hoen as the principle investigator on what the pair intends to be the first scientifically rigorous, juried and, ultimately, published study on the actual, documented effects of wind turbines on property values. This study will be financed not by a private "foundation" with an ax to grind, but with public money.
"no statistical evidence that homes within 4 to 7 miles of a facility are affected adversely."The Hoen and Wiser study will have a huge sample size -- 3,500 to 5,000 home sales near 8 to 10 operating wind turbine projects.
Earlier this month at the American Wind Energy Association's annual wind energy conference, Hoen presented the team's preliminary findings. The study is not quite half done. After looking at four sites with a total sample size of 2,195 home sales, the Lawrence Berkeley team found "no statistical evidence that homes within 4 to 7 miles of a facility are affected adversely."
The team is now moving on to the next stage, looking at another four to six sites. Said Hoen: "These are rigorous results. The model seems to be working very well."
Wiser emphasizes the importance of scientific rigor. "All that's existed to date has been hearsay," he says, "maybe it's informed hearsay, maybe it's uninformed. Talking to homeowners who have never seen a wind farm, it's hard for the imagination to really credibly tell you what that thing might look like."
Wiser expects the study to be completed by the end of the year. Results may be available in early 2008.